“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.” E.B. White
Enter a child’s headspace and you will find a perpetually unfolding space for stories and beauty. Children are driven by wonder and endless curiosities. Yet children’s books rarely capture this spirit. They downsize big ideas—in E.B. White’s words: “writing down to children”—even though kids are the most inquisitive creatures who happily swallow mind-stretching topics and swing from one discipline to another like a natural interdisciplinary student.
Recently, we are seeing a reemergence of children’s stories that, like children themselves, galvanize on little mundane things in life, like mornings, a blue bird, or a city’s soundscape. I call them ‘children’s stories for adults’ for its quality that transcends age and time. Working as modernized and simplified fables, these children’s stories for adults mark the realization that adults, too, are still little children inside. And if we admit this, then there is a timeless landscape within us that remains unadulterated and naive, a fertile space for pure ecstatic curiosity to grow no matter our age. Perhaps if we take industrialized civilizations away, we would be closer to a fluid state of mind and only maturing in body, but with imaginations and curiosity that runs in higher velocity (which only leaves us with a jarring conclusion that advanced civilizations age us quickly, yes?).
Richard Feynman, the father of nanotechnology whose achievements are comparable to Einstein’s, always spoke of his Father as the man who taught him to see through beyond what’s visible. They will walk in the woods, Feynman would recall, and his father said:
DAD In all this time we have been looking at the forest, we have only seen half of what is going on, exactly half.
FEYNMAN What do you mean?
DAD We have been looking at how all these things grow, but for each bit of growth, there must be the same amount of decay, otherwise the materials would be consumed forever. Dead trees would lie there having used up all the stuff from the air, and nothing else could grow, because there is no material available. There must be for each bit of growth exactly the same amount of decay.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
When Feynman was a child, his father taught him to look for the dinosaurs in the window.
DAD This thing (ed: dinosaur) is twenty-five feet high and the head is six feet across. Let’s see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard he would be high enough to put his head through the window but not quite because the head is a little bit too wide and it would break the window as it came by.
Everything we’d read would be translated as best we could into some reality and so I learned to do that
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
Embracing the marriage of imaginations and curiosity, Feynman kept looking out for dinosaurs in the window as he ascended to be world-renowned physicists. He didn’t just work incredibly well with mechanics and their intricate works, but he was also persistent to transform the invisible fabrics of the atomic universe into workable theories and calculations.
Scientists are indeed vivid imaginators.
Einstein said it best that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” And I think many of these scientists saw themselves as forever curious children, only with bigger and more sophisticated technologies.
In many ways, we are still curious children at heart. Only that, as we age, we forgot we are one.
But deep in our spirit, our ships are still sailing steadily beyond time and space, asking and inquiring, making constellations out of the distant galaxies of the mind.